Q: Do any C-U pools offer separate swim times for kids with sensory processing issues?
A: The Urbana Park District is making quiet "sensory-friendly" swim sessions available for the first time this summer. They're from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Fridays through Aug. 17 at the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center, 102 E. Michigan Ave.
During these swim times, the play features that might cause sensory overload for affected kids — squirting water toys and water slides, for example — are turned off.
Parents, be sure and check ahead. Times for sensory-friendly swimming will be affected by some planned closings in later July, early August and on July 6.
Aquatics Manager Leslie Radice said she first heard about sensory-sensitive sessions at a conference and has long wanted to offer it here.
Over the years, the district has gotten — and said yes to — requests from parents to allow their kids with sensory-processing issues to swim during toddler swim times, she said.
Some people with sensory-processing issues can find being in the water comforting, and others don't, Radice said. But even for those without issues, having all the play features on can be overwhelming.
The park district hasn't been offering sensory-sensitive swimming long enough to measure the impact in the community, according to Brianna Pierson, a shift manager at the aquatics center. But she can say it's going over well for kids who swim at those times.
"The kids who have come with certain disabilities or disorders love it, because it's a safe and calming environment," Pierson said.
And because some kids with sensory-processing issues are touch-sensitive, they can swim in whatever they're comfortable wearing — such as shorts and a T-shirt. The only restrictions are no wearing jeans in the pool (they tend to be germy and too heavy to swim in) and no swimming in just underwear alone, she said.
Another option is the Stephens Family YMCA. While it doesn't have set times for sensory-sensitive swimming, Aquatics Director Alyssa Freeman said the family pool tends to be less hectic and quieter during the summer months from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or give the therapy pool a try during open exercise times, she suggested.
Sensory-processing issues aren't defined as a "disorder" but as a group of symptoms related to how people process the input they get from their senses in a variety of environments, according to Carle occupational therapist Tracy Bailen.
Both kids and adults can be affected, but adults are more likely to have developed coping mechanisms. For instance, an adult who is anxious on a roller coaster will avoid riding one.
But kids can have the fight-or-flight response to sensory overload and become anxious without knowing how to handle it. Sometimes, they will act out with negative behaviors, Bailen said.